Doctors Are Turning To Marijuana To Treat Opioid Addiction


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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Doctors that were previously reluctant to support the use of medical marijuana, are now advocating for cannabis as a safe and effective way to treat chronic pain without additive opioids.

Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph, a renowned surgeon in Chicago, is pushing the state of Illinois and his colleagues in the medical community to expand access to the state’s medical marijuana program in an effort to reduce dependence on opioid painkillers. Bush-Joseph said he sees the devastation opioid treatment can wreak on patients after a surgery all too often, which opened him up to medical marijuana as an alternative treatment, reports the Chicago Tribune.

He had to turn away one patient in desperate need of surgery because the man was already on a high dose of opioids, however, he came back to Bush-Joseph nine months later having successfully replaced his daily opioid intake with medical marijuana.

“There’s a large group of patients who have chronic pain who rely on opioids,” Bush-Joseph told the Chicago Tribune. “Those are the patients who would benefit from medical cannabis.”

Bush-Joseph, who heads the group Physicians Against Injurious Narcotics, is now backing a bill to expand access to the Illinois medical marijuana program to anyone who qualifies for an opioid prescription. There are currently 40 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in the state, including cancer and AIDS, which serves roughly 27,000 patients. Under the proposed legislation a significantly larger portion of the population will now qualify for medical marijuana.

The bill also waves the current requirement forcing medical marijuana patients to undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background checks, and accelerates patient approval from the current three-month wait to only 14-days.

A study published April 1 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found in states with legal weed hospital visits for complications from prescription painkillers are dropping. The hospitalization rate for opioid abuse and dependence in states with medical marijuana are roughly 23 percent lower than states without legal access.

Emergency room visits for opioid overdoses are on average 13 percent lower than states without medical marijuana programs.

Medical researchers do not claim pot will “solve” the opioid epidemic, but the study adds to a growing body of evidence that marijuana can be an effective alternative to the painkillers that often lead to heroin abuse and death. Research released in February from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria suggests patients suffering from chronic pain and mental health conditions will choose marijuana over their addictive prescription drugs when doctors give them a choice.

Roughly 63 percent of patients in the study chose marijuana due to reduced side effects and because it is far less addictive than their prescription medication. Patients also said they were better able to manage their symptoms by using weed.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 predicts that the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.

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